By Kaylee Lindenmuth
For the first time since November 2017, Matthew 24 Ministries returned to campus to stage a protest laced with messages of hate on April 16.
Throughout the afternoon, the Philadelphia County-based group—consisting of two men, Pastor Aden Rusfeldt and an unidentified man, and woman named Mary Rusfeldt—engaged students with vulgar language and messages of hate directed towards a variety of groups from minorities to gamers and “ankle biters.” Two unidentified children were also present with the group, though they sat in silence.
Throughout the event, both men engaged the crowd with hateful messages. Mary Rusfeldt videotaped the crowd early on in the protest, though later, she joined the two men in preaching.
At one point, Aden Rusfeldt, wearing a baseball cap and a shirt reading “I [heart] you sinner,” said to an African-American bystander, “You’re going to go to Hell, talking like a gangster rapper.”
As the crowd grew and tensions rose, KU Public Safety police officers established a perimeter around the group.
KU President Kenneth Hawkinson visited the scene along with Dean of Students Donavan McCargo.
“Sadly, these groups make the rounds of all the college campuses, and, as a public university, we have to allow people on our campus to exercise their right of free speech,” Hawkinson said. “It in no way means we endorse anything that they’re saying. Often, what they’re saying goes against our values and the principles of who they are.”
Hawkinson said he hopes “students would see it for what it is.”
“They’re here to agitate, so we hope that our students will walk on by and not engage,” said Hawkinson.
“In the past, we’ve gotten notice [ahead of the protest.] We had no notice,” added Hawkinson. “Usually, they send us a letter from their lawyer several hours before they arrive, outlining their rights, and they didn’t do it this time.”
Countering the Protest
McCargo said, during the protest, that he was working to mobilize the Bias Response Task Force.
“We do have different strategies in place, but what happens is, when this group grows so fast and so quickly, it’s really difficult to begin to encourage people to walk away because it becomes entertainment,” said McCargo. “We would appreciate it, if people aren’t invested in this conversation, to just keep moving.”
Some students countered the protest directly, with signs promoting Black Lives Matter and other minority causes, while others had fun in response. One student drew a sign reading “South Needs 4 Pasta Lines,” while another wrote, “Drake & Josh is coming back.”
Two students stood back from the crowd with their signs, spreading positive messages. Samantha Fairchild, a senior professional writing major, held a sign reading “Love is Love.” Freshman cinema, television and media production major Elijah Leon Guerrero, stood back with a sign reading “I’m just watching, also, free hugs.”
One student, intending to break the tension of the situation, arrived and joined the crowd dressed as Jesus.
“At first, it was kind of like a joke, because I dressed as Jesus for Halloween, so I had this sitting in my locker for the longest [time,] but when I got out here, I realize tensions were getting tight, and it made people laugh,” said sophomore Damani Okuri. “They’re not really here trying to push anything. They’re just trying to get a reaction out of us and trying to make money. Some people take it a little too seriously, so somebody has to come loosen the tension a little bit.”
The Women’s Center set up a table with a variety of signs from their “Replace the Hate” event last year for students to hold and spread positive messages, said Christine Price, director of the center.
“This is to kind of counteract the message,” said Price. “Ideally, we would have people coming over here and coming away from [the protesters,] but I think people wanted to get the signs and take them over and say ‘No, this is our message of no-hate, and we love everyone, and equality.’”
Altercations and Confrontations
Jeremy Padovani, a freshman professional writing major, had two interactions with the protesters, one of which, he said, involved a personal insult.
“I’m always curious as to how fundamentalist Christians will respond when I ask them about faith healing, because I’m disabled, so I said ‘Hey, do you think Jesus could heal me?’ and he says, ‘Well, I don’t want to prejudge you, but you have short hair. Are you a lesbian?” Padovani said. “I said ‘No, I’m a transgender man,’ and he said, ‘You’re a transgender man? That’s why God let you be crippled.’ At that point, I just walked away.”
Hanna-Peace Anabui, a senior social work major, confronted the group about their beliefs, drawing from lessons learned from her pastor mother.
“When he was preaching about God, I noticed that some of the things he was preaching about were incorrect, because I have a full background in Christianity,” said Anabui. “Most of the stuff he was saying was from the Old Testament.”
Anabui said she corrected the group, and a back-and-forth ensued.
“When he saw I was talking, he immediately looked frightened and surprised that I knew what I was talking about, and he kept trying to check me on it,” said Anabui. “He asked me if I was a Christian, and I said ‘Yes, and my mom is a pastor.’”
Anabui said she was at the scene until the comment directed at Padovani.
The group began protesting around noon and was still speaking as of 4:15 p.m.